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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 8/22/08

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Dear Rachel,

I read your columns all the time and appreciate The Jewish Press and your commitment to addressing issues that many people would rather sweep under the rug.

There is much written about kids who go off the derech, but I have never seen anything on parents being off the derech nor how to deal with it. My husband of over 20 years is off the derech. We recently split up. (Many of our problems were due to his attitude toward Yiddishkeit and his lack of observance.) This was not a sudden decision on his part; it happened over many years, and for a long time he was living a lie. I caught him violating Shabbos, among other things.

I spoke to many rabbonim, who generally refused to get involved, because they felt they had no influence over him. The one rav he would listen to wasn’t very effective.

The issue now is the effect on our children, especially the oldest who is past Bar Mitzvah. They are very embarrassed and angry. For the sake of my children’s privacy, let’s just say that the issues range from the fact that my husband no longer wears a kippah (the kids don’t want to be seen in public with him) to his unwillingness to pay for their education.

My oldest states that he isn’t his father anymore, that he will change his name when he grows up, etc. He is often very chuzpadik to his father. What can this father expect after training this child in the derech of Torah and then deciding to leave Our son is angry and confused. I have made it clear that no matter what he is not to be disrespectful to his father. We do not know for sure that he is not keeping Shabbos, kosher, etc. We do know he is doing other non-kosher things because he tells us.

When I asked someone to learn the laws of kibbud av v’eim with my son, I was told it wasn’t a good idea because the halachah states if a parent knowingly violates Shabbos there is a question what one is obligated to do in terms of respect. I need to know if this is true. I highly doubt it.

We have been separated for a few weeks with no legal proceedings in the works as of yet. He is paying me child support, but if my son continues this behavior he will stop paying. My kids are mortified, angry and understandably upset. They are happy that we are apart but cannot deal with their father being off the Torah derech. What do I do?

By the way, even if he would become observant again, there is no hope for our marriage. I have wanted out for years. We have been to counseling, but there are just too many issues. What I need to know now is how to handle this with the children without being the bad guy and negative about their dad. I know that it isn’t good for me to say negative things about their father, but in this situation how do I avoid it?

My husband is not living in our neighborhood and his living arrangements do not allow him to have the kids for Shabbos or Yom Tov, so that is not an issue.

I do not want this to be a war − too much of our marriage was war and the children have had enough. Thanks for any help.

Hurting for my children

Dear Hurting,

There is no rocky marriage that leaves children unaffected, lending credence to the belief that it is far better to come from a broken home than to live in one. Your children who were caught up in the turbulence of your relationship with their father need constant reassurance that they are not at fault for the friction between their parents.

I had earlier conveyed to you (upon original receipt of your e-mail) that the mitzvah of kibbud av is not optional and is not to be compromised. However, the act of showing respect to a parent is not necessarily reflective of a feeling of love for that parent. Your 13-year old is old enough to be given to understand that regardless of how he may feel about his dad, a Divine commandment is not to be transgressed and he is to behave in a respectful manner at all times.

You, as their mother and role model, are in a position to yield tremendous influence. For instance, by reinforcing a positive outlook and refraining from displaying anger, you can lighten your children’s emotional burden and make it that much easier for them to cope with the less-than-ideal life situation they are mired in.

Their father may be the malefactor, but it is your attitude that can make all the difference in your children’s adjustment and emotional health. Instead of alluding to their father as being “right” or “wrong,” show enthusiasm toward your own high standard of commitment and principles. Expound on the beauty of being observant. Explain to your children that just like there are people who grow frummer with time, some unfortunately go the other way but will hopefully one day find their way back.

Denigrating their father will sow seeds of anger and resentment in your children and will complicate the matter of interaction between them and their father, whereas taking pride and obvious delight in your own chosen way of life and its pleasures, while expressing sadness (in place of anger) at their father’s dissatisfaction and his need to escape, will dissipate your children’s anger and anxiety − which may even give way to sympathy for a neshamah gone astray.

Voice the hope that – by seeing his children thriving and enjoying what he has left behind – their father will be brought back to frumkeit.

May this transition in your life proceed smoothly, and may you go on to reap much nachas from your children and future generations.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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